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The 2016 election in the US remains one of the most pulsating and surprising in American history. Donald Trump was the most unlikely candidate for the office of the president. The odds were against him not only because his past was riddled with controversies, but because he did not have the political experience and stamina to deal with the murky waters of politics in Washington. When he emerged the winner in the Republican primaries, the cynics and pundits intimated that he would not win the elections because his challenger Hillary Clinton was uniquely qualified and had the political experience relevant needed for the office. However, on November 8, 2016, Donald Jake Trump emerged the winner of the presidential elections. There are many theories that can be explored to explain why President Trump won the elections. Agenda setting, framing, cultivation, and priming theories can be used to explain how President Trump won the 2016 elections.
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President Trump during the Republican primaries and presidential campaigns was followed by controversies, some from the past experiences and others emerging as a consequence of the elections. Due to the controversies and Twitter feuds generated by candidate Trump, the media used such opportunities to set the news agenda through the electioneering period. The controversies generated by Trump made it possible for the media to set the addenda using the candidate as the main object of the story. The media plays a major role in disseminating political information to the people. The information that the media conveys to the public has got a great impact because it influences people’s decisions. Agenda setting is one of the theories that try to explain the contribution of media to politics. This research began in the year 1972 covering the 1968 presidential elections (Shah, 2009). Agenda setting theory is built on the premise that the media creates public awareness by focusing on significant issues through the news. As far as agenda setting theory is concerned, the media shapes and filters the information released to the public (Shah, 2009). The fact that the media focuses on certain issues deemed to be important in the society makes it a reliable source of information to the public concerning pertinent issues. In regard to this theory, the media has the power to shape the public agenda. What the media concentrate on is what the public believes to be the important issue. The media coverage of an issue in the society shapes the way people view, understand and perceive that issue. It is, therefore, critical to realize that agenda setting theory as employed by the media fraternity has got a great impact on the public and the society at large.
Agenda setting theory contributed significantly to Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 general election. The media’s role in Donald Trump’s victory of 2016 is undeniable. After the Republican primaries, it is evident that the media favored Trump over his opponent Ted Cruz. The agenda-setting theory holds that the media focuses on significant issues and gives those issues more coverage than other issues. Donald Trump received more coverage in the 2016 election more than other candidates. Patterson observes that media coverage in the electioneering period depends on poll standing (Patterson, 2016). However, this was not the case with Trump, who was trailing behind in the Republican Party before the primaries. The media decided to give Trump more coverage effectively influencing the decisions of many people in the United States of America. It is estimated that Trump’s media coverage was worth millions of dollars. It is, therefore, explicit that agenda setting theory helped Donald Trump to emerge the winner in the past American election.
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Cultivation is a theory that was proposed by Gerbner in the year 1976. This theory was all about the world of television. The theory holds that the more people view television the more they believe the information that they see on television. The viewers tend to believe that television messages are authentic, valid and real. The people who hold to this theory argue that television has got diverse effects to those people who view it frequently. Those people who are fond of viewing television end up believing that the world that is portrayed on television is the real and perfect world (Shanahan, 2009). Prolonged viewing of television can create a perception in the viewer’s mind about the reality of the society. Television is capable of influencing people’s attitude and their beliefs. The people who absorb more information from the television are susceptible to media influence as compared to those who do not watch television on a regular basis. Therefore, the power of television cannot be overlooked in the society because it shapes people’s way of thinking and acting.
Cultivation theory contributed to a greater extent in ensuring that President Trump won the elections. According to the reports by Patterson (2016), it was the responsibility of the media to build Trump. One of the media outlets is television and it is certain that the television stations in the United States of America helped Trump win the election. In the Republican contest, reports indicate that Trump was given close to 34% media coverage as compared to the other Republican candidates (Patterson, 2016). It is explicit that Trump was the candidate that the press focused on. The media that includes the television concentrated on showing the viewer’s how Trump was gaining ground in the political arena. Trump was considered to be the “big news” in many media outlets in the United States of America (Patterson, 2016). If Trump was given more coverage than other people in all media outlets then it follows that cultivation theory explains better why he won the election. According to cultivation theory, the more people viewed television in the US, the more they were convinced that Trump was the best candidate. Essentially, Trump won the election because of more coverage on television and this influenced those people who constantly viewed television in America as the cultivation theory dictates.
Framing theory is a concept that is related to agenda setting. This theory holds that the way an event or issue is presented to the public shapes the understanding of people concerning that specific issue (Shah, 2009). From the word framing, this theory is all about giving certain information boundaries effectively adding meaning to the message. The theory influences greatly on how the audience interprets or receive the information being aired. Framing theory does not only convey the message, but also determines people’s perceptions concerning the message (Shah, 2009). Agenda setting theory tells the public what to think about when it comes to the news being aired. This theory was put forth by Goffman and it was first referred to as frame analysis (Shah, 2009). He observed that many people understand what is being said through the media framework. This framing is considered to be primary.
The framing theory did contribute to the victory of President Trump. The beginning of the presidential campaigns in the US saw the media focus on Trump in a negative way. The media forced the audience to know Trump from one point of view. All the media made the public to understand was how Donald Trump was a racist and an imperfect leader. The media thought that they were downplaying the candidature of Donald Trump by painting him to be working against protecting the minority groups in the United States (Patterson, 2016). The more the media fixed its coverage on the negative side of the Republican presidential candidate the more he gained publicity. Framing theory is established on the premise of presenting information in a certain way that shapes how the public thinks about the same information. The citizens of America received information about Trump and how to think or understand him. While the media thought that they were exposing who exactly Trump was, the audience was being helped on how to think about Trump. The public knew that the agenda of Trump could help the masses regain their dignity as citizens of America. Therefore, Trump won the election based on the framing theory
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The other issue about framing theory that made Trump to win the 2016 election was the fact that the media fixed its attention on Trump gaining ground and the emerging controversies. In any political contest, there are two possibilities when it comes to media coverage. These possibilities include losing ground and gaining ground coverage. The media can decide to cover a candidate because he or she is losing ground. The other reason why the media may cover a candidate is that he or she is gaining ground or due to past behavior unknown to the public. The latter explains why Donald Trump received media coverage than his opponents, hence leading to his victory. The media using framing theory drew the attention of the electorate on Trump, who was gaining ground each and every day (Patterson, 2016). It should be noted that Trump was not that popular when the campaigns began and in fact, he was trailing behind prior to Republican primaries. However, when he started gaining ground the media concentrated on him effectively helping people to know him more. The people, therefore, knew that Trump was seriously making a progressive improvement that led him to be crowned president of the United States of America.
This theory has got its foundation in cognitive psychology. It is determined by the human mind. This theory proposes that human beings make decisions based on the preconceptions stored in the memory (Shah, 2009). The media provides a basic perception which is amplified by the preconceptions that are already in the human being memory essentially helping the individual to make a decision. The memories that are stored in the mind are in the form of nodes. These nodes are connected to each other and they influence greatly the decisions that people make (Shah, 2009). They are the reference point when it comes to decision making. The priming theory helps the public to know the effectiveness of the media in relation to the references that are stirred up in their memory. Priming helps people make choices based on the information being relayed through the media. Priming theory, therefore, influences people in the society when it comes to making important choices for instance during the campaign period.
The media helped Donald Trump to win the presidential election of 2016 in America because of the impact of priming theory. It is evident that many people in the United States of America knew little or nothing about Donald Trump. The possible information they had about him was that he was a media personality and a business person. The priming theory states that human beings make decisions based on the preconceptions stored up in the memory. It is possible that the media helped people who had limited information about Trump to know him even better (Patterson, 2016). The coverage that Trump was given aided him to be known by people and this helped people to make a major political decision in 2016. The information that people had about Trump before the election could not help them to make an informed decision about his candidature. However, the moment the media propelled Trump through the coverage of his agenda and campaigns, the electorate decided to vote for him hence making him the forty-fifth president of the US.
The other aspect of priming theory that made Trump to win the election was the focus on Hilary Clintons past failures. The media in the US helped Trump in exposing the mistakes that Hilary Clinton committed when she was secretary of state during the reign of Barrack Obama. Specifically, the media focused on the issue of the private email server that Hilary Clinton used for official communications. This story over showed other plans and initiatives of Hilary Clinton, hence giving Donald Trump an upper hand in the elections. The priming theory holds that the media helps people to make decisions based on the earlier memories that are stored up in the cognitive. The preconceptions that are stored in the form of nodes are amplified by the media hence decisions are made. Many people in America knew Hilary Clinton, but it is possible that they were not aware of her past dealings (Wilson, 2017). The moment the media dug deep into her past life, the other side of Hilary came out and this shaped the way people voted in the November 2016 election. It is argued that as a result of the media coverage of this story, Hilary ended up losing a majority of the democrat voters who voted for Barrack Obama in the previous elections. Therefore, priming theory informed how people voted in the United States of America making Trump the president.
Agenda setting, framing, cultivation, and priming theories can be used to explain how President Trump won the 2016 elections. The way the media covered the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump guaranteed him victory. The choices that the people of America made on the 8th of November 2016 were based on media coverage. The media ensured that Donald Trump managed to go to the white house by directly or indirectly drumming up support for him. In relation to the operations of the media, there are also theories that explain why and how Donald Trump won the election. Theories like Framing, priming, cultivation, and agenda-setting all of them explain the way media helped Trump to win the election. It is, therefore, important for the media to be careful, especially during the campaign period because most of the decisions that people make rely heavily on the information they get from the media.
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- Patterson, T. (2016). Pre-Primary News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Race: Trump’s Rise, Sanders’ Emergence, Clinton’s Struggle. Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and public policy.
- Shah, D. (2009). Framing and agenda setting.
- Shanahan, J & Morgan, M. (2009). Television and its viewers: cultivation theory and research. Trumpington: Cambridge university press.
- Wilson, J. (2017). Trump unveiled: Exposing the bigoted billionaire. New York: Or books.